By ANGIE HAFLICH
The Finney County Transit (FIT) provides a local bus service, which translates into freedom and mobility for many of its riders.
For some, this is because they don't have other transportation. For others, it's because of physical limitations that hinder them from driving. Aside from the physical connections the buses provide, there are also connections made among the riders.
Garden City Community College English Instructor Eugenia Eberhart uses the Paratransit bus service because she is legally blind.
"It would have never worked for me because you don't want me driving, because I can't see," she said and laughed. "So the only way I could take this job is if that bus was here."
Eberhart took the position five years ago and said that she buys a monthly pass for $40.
"You can pay a dollar per trip, but depending on how much you use it, it's usually more cost effective to get the monthly pass," she said.
She said that with that pass, she also can arrange to go to the grocery store, get her hair cut or run other errands. There is another benefit of the daily contact between drivers and riders of the paratransit.
"This happens all the time with elderly people. They'll go up and ring the doorbell, and if there is no answer, the driver will put out an alert," she said. "It's kind of like having somebody looking out for you."
Bonnie Burgardt, FIT director, said that riders age 60 and older or those who have documented disabilities, can fill out a form at the Finney County Transit office in order to obtain a half-fare card.
Rather than operating on a route system, the Paratransit is an on-demand bus service, meaning it will pick riders up at their homes or any location, any time between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
"I call them every semester and set my schedule up with them, and then they run on my schedule," Eberhart said. "So, if I have a 7 a.m. class, they would set like a 6:30 pickup and then they would get me at whatever time I would finish in the evening."
The Paratransit buses pull up in her driveway and then drop her off in the parking lot next to the academic building at GCCC.
"I live over in the Wilson Addition across the bypass, which is not very far from campus, and I got so excited when we moved here because I thought I could just walk from here. Well, I am not walking that bypass, I am not doing it. They will run you over, those big old semis coming through there. I do not want to be roadkill, so I ride the mini bus," she said and laughed.
The City Link bus service operates on a four-route system throughout Garden City. Bus stops are on each of these routes, which have regularly scheduled pickups throughout the day.
Burgardt said that in some ways, the buses actually have connected community members, especially those who are new to the area.
"One day, I was on the bus and it was so cool. We had a Somali lady with her child, a black man, Hispanic man and a white man, and they all moved here from different areas. ... Three guys — one came from California, one from Chicago and one from New York. So they're all talking to each other about where they came from, what brought them here, and what they thought of the town, and I just thought, 'this is building community,'" she said. "As we drove along, there was a fellow who got on the bus who was disabled and these guys were asking him, 'how you doing? Are you feeling better today?' So it is building community."
She said that the three men also had shared that they had each been in gangs in their former communities and that getting out of the gang life was one of the reasons they moved to Garden City.
"One fella, he and his wife had a child and they wanted a better life for their child, so they moved here from California. The one from Chicago said they couldn't sleep at night because of all the gunfire and the noise. He said, 'it's so quiet here,'" Burgardt said.
For more information about City Link or the Mini Bus Paratransit, visit www.seniorcenterfc.com/transportation or call 272-3626.
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